Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
There is little debate that the original Jurassic Park film from 1993 is a genuine classic, but that its sequels left something to be desired. Then along came 2015’s Jurassic World which restored some of the original film’s magic, mostly by returning the franchise to its theme-park-gone-haywire roots. What was scary about those films is that they brought the dinosaurs into our world, whereas the first two sequels sent humans into the dinosaur’s domain of the abandoned island. Now comes Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a sequel that cannot return to the theme park because it would be far too implausible to have another park open after not one, but two deadly disasters. What Fallen Kingdom does do that works, though, is stick with the idea of the dinosaurs being brought into our world rather than us into ours, and the result is another tension-filled, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.
It has been a few years since the disaster at the Jurassic World theme park, and ever since the dinosaurs have been roaming free on the island of Isla Nublar. A long-dormant volcano on the island has become active, though, threatening to extinguish dinosaurs from the face of the Earth for a second time. The debate rages in Washington over whether or not these cloned creatures are entitled to the same protection as other endangered species, but a reclusive billionaire has come up with a plan. He owns an island (sound familiar?) that is completely shielded from the rest of the world where the dinosaurs could thrive without endangering the human race. But first, he must send a team in to rescue the animals from Isla Nublar before the island destroys itself.
For his expedition, he recruits Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing because of her familiarity with the island and Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady because of his unique bond with one of the island’s most ferocious carnivores: the Velociraptor named Blue. Almost immediately upon returning to the island, Claire and Owen learn that there are more nefarious plans at work and they soon find themselves stowing away on a ship transporting the animals to the mainland like Noah’s Ark. Upon returning, they get caught up in a mansion-set survival story eerily similar to the plot of the original Resident Evil video game; or, more fittingly, the Resident Evil-inspired, dinosaur-filled Dino Crisis.
The video game comparison is apt because Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a roller-coaster ride that runs from one set piece to another, pausing briefly in between for a few cut-scenes worth of exposition. And the movie is at its best when it is going all-out. The volcano eruption sequence that has been the centerpiece of the film’s marketing campaign delivers strongly on its promise and then some. From the moment the tables turn on our leads right up through their narrow escape from the natural disaster, the movie keeps energy flowing and butts on the edges of seats.
The second half of the film, taking place in a giant mansion with hidden elevators and secrets, is thrilling because it is something we have not yet seen in the Jurassic Park franchise. This is the most human location—a home, even if an excessively large one—that the franchise has thrown the dinosaurs into, not counting the tacked-on ending of Lost World. The extended sequence may feature the best blend of horror and action elements since the power bunker and kitchen sequences in the original film. The film does have its fair share cheesy moments that inspire unintended laughter at times, and some of the expositional scenes run on a little too long; but for the most part it moves well and keeps the tension heightened.
Director J.A. Bayona is a newcomer to the franchise and his filmography suggests he is a perfect fit, having already directed horror (The Orphanage), a disaster movie (The Impossible), and a movie with a giant monster (A Monster Calls). He brings all of those elements together in Fallen Kingdom, while also addressing moralistic questions such as the threat of genetic engineering and the question of whether clones are owed the same rights as natural-born life forms. He is also very clearly a movie buff as this film is loaded with obvious references to classics such as Vertigo, The Shining, and of course, the original Jurassic Park. It may be time to put the young kid hiding in a cabinet but unable to close the door reference to bed, though, because it is starting to wear out its welcome.
Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is a rare sequel that actually builds upon the world of the original rather than simply copying it on a larger scale. It is also maybe the first movie in this franchise that concludes leaving us with a genuine appetite—not just for another sequel, but to see where this particular story can go. That is something every franchise film should aspire to.
Fallen Kingdom opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and the Landing Stadium 14 in Renton.